I will freely admit that I decided to check this movie out for one reason and one reason only, and that is Aubrey Plaza. I have had a couple of girl friends in my life, most of them that I absolutely adored, that were pretty much the spittin’ image of Aubrey Plaza in their cynicism, dark sense of humor, and general hatred for humanity. I don’t know if Aubrey is like this in real life, but man, if she is a shiny and bubbly person and the exact opposite of the characters she portrays in movies like this or shows like Parks and Recreation, then she is our best living actress. Because she plays these roles perfectly. Safety Not Guaranteed is an odd little movie, one that is frankly a little hard to review, and even harder to pinpoint or classify. Aside from my fairly ridiculous crush on Aubrey Plaza though, this is definitely a movie worth your attention, because, and yes I realize I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but, they don’t let many movies like this out anymore, it’s different, and different is good – wasn’t that a slogan for Arby’s years ago? Man, Arby’s sucks. Good slogan they had, though.
So this movie is essentially the tale of these two kids, and yeah, that is Mark Duplass from The League, and you can’t see it there, but dude is rockin’ a KILLER mullet through most of this movie. I mean a BOSS one. Which fits his personality here, because the movie is centered around three cynical and jaded reporters – two of em interns (played by Plaza and some Indian kid that doesn’t do a whole lot), with their “boss” being Nick from New Girl, Jake Johnson, who find an interesting want ad, that was actually based off of a real ad from the 1990s. It basically sounds like it was written by a lunatic, and apparently provided a lot of fun for those zany innernets meme kids a while back, but this is it, word for word – Obviously a cynical, or hell, any sane person would be greatly amused by this, and maybe even tempted to contact this guy – especially if you have your own sword, or flamethrower or what have you. So the trip to scope this guy out is on, and that’s where we get our premise. Obviously the director of this movie, who I had never heard of because he had only directed a tv movie or two before this one, was always amused by this and wanted to take it further by making a full fledged movie out of the whole deal. The good news is that it mostly works, but the bad news is that while its a pretty original idea, we still fall into a lot of the “indie movie” pitfalls that could almost classify this movie as “indie movie fluff”, but thankfully it’s the performances from Plaza and Duplass that save this movie from being thrown in the garbage.
So Duplass plays the resident weirdo, mullet and 80’s bandana and all, and damn if he doesn’t play it well. Whereas Plaza’s performance isn’t far off at all from April from Parks and Recreation, this is a big departure from Duplass’ character on The League, in fact this guy doesn’t have much of a sense of humor at all. A big part of this movie is, of course, whether this guy is actually on the level or just a whackjob, but right from the start we can tell that Darius (Plaza’s incredibly oddly named character – director a big fan of Hootie or somethin? Must really love the Tendercrisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch? Click on that link, please, please do it) is intrigued by him, which is really saying something for her, because she isn’t intrigued by much of anything. But much like the idea that he might be crazy, we aren’t really sure if she is genuinely interested or just wants to have a good laugh, which is all Jeff (Johnson) is here for. This is why the movie works in it’s first 45 minutes or so.
And the reason we stick around, well, why females would stick around, because I’m pretty sure that picture is about all any guy needs to see to want to watch this movie, but anyways, we stick around for the latter half for what the movie becomes – and that is a movie about lonely people who just want to connect with someone. Simple, maybe cliched, right? But who cares, aren’t we all lonely, aren’t we all just seemingly drifting sometimes, and we want to connect with that one person that seems to understand us? Darius – I’m just gonna call her Hootie from now, cool? Ok, cool. So, Hootie and Ken (Duplass) connect because Ken is most assuredly a lonely person, someone who may or may not be building a time machine obviously has a lot of ideas kicking around in his head and doesn’t have time for things like “friends”, and Hootie just wants to find something interesting in this boring life of hers. However, what works almost as well as this main story between these two is the side story about Jeff, who is quite a bit older than Hootie, and his similar story about time travel, except his doesn’t involve a machine. He goes on this assignment for selfish reasons, to meet a girl that he hooked up with when he was 18. He still thinks about her, he tells his cronies, because she was hot. He even creepily keeps her pictures in his wallet. Well, when he finds her, she of course isn’t the smokin’ hottie that he remembers, but something quite different. However, since she occupied his mind so much and he is actually probably the MOST lonely person in this movie (perhaps that a testament to how well Johnson plays these characters – because his character isn’t a stretch from Nick on New Girl at all), he goes through with it anyways – and I won’t spoil anything about the scenes between him and his high school girlfriend, but they are quite touching, unexpected, and even sweet. Which was NOT what I expected from this character from the start, at all.
I won’t spoil anything else for you, because if you are into this sort of indie film, you should check it out. But like I said from the start, this movie is NOT what I expected. I expected some lighthearted banter about how much society sucks, a few laughs, maybe a love story I wouldn’t quite buy into but I enjoyed myself anyways. This movie doesn’t have many laughs, and Duplass’ character is pretty much all business. And the ending is fantastic, I know once again that I often say an ending makes a movie for me, but I mean, its true, man. The ending to this one is brilliant, and just as unexpected as the entire movie was – or maybe you saw it coming, I really didn’t. I knew how I wanted it to end, and this movie didn’t disappoint at all. This isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch, like I said, it probably wouldn’t work in the hands of lesser actors. But Plaza has been one to watch since one of her first appearances, the movie Funny People, where she was nearly the most memorable person in that movie – and not just cuz she was pretty, either. Her facial expressions, much like Keira Knightley, are really what help her steal the scenes she is in. Particularly the later scenes where she truly is intrigued by this strange little man. And Duplass has already directed a couple of great movies and is almost always good in anything he’s in, so this movie is memorable because of them, not because it’s going to blow your mind. But it IS a different kind of experience, and we can always use a little indie movie here and there right, even if it does have some of those “indie movie fluff” cliches in it.